2016 is almost over and it will go down as one of the most memorable years in wrestling history. Many things changed this year with the brand split completely altering the world of the WWE. Raw and SmackDown Live each being separate brands with unique rosters opened the opportunity for more stars to shine. WWE needed to double the amount of wrestlers used effectively. The three hours of Raw and two hours of SmackDown Live along with the WWE Network content led to new stars being born. Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, Finn Balor and AJ Styles all won world titles for the first time in the WWE.
The independent circuit also searched for new stars with many of the hottest free agents heading to the WWE. A couple of high profile stars left the company out of frustration. Cody Rhodes specifically has made an impact taking advantage of his name value by appearing in Ring of Honor, PWG and Evolve Wrestling. While there were plenty of success stories, there were many negative ones as well. Some of the wrestlers we had hopes for managed to fall apart or drop the ball this year. We’ll look back at the fifteen biggest disappointments of the wrestling world in 2016.
15 Dean Ambrose
This was a year of ups and downs for Dean Ambrose. The Money in the Bank PPV featured Ambrose win the MITB match, cash in his title shot to defeat Seth Rollins and become the WWE World Champion. Ambrose was the final member of The Shield to capture the prize and had the worst reign of the three. Between a weak feud with Dolph Ziggler at SummerSlam and fans cheering A.J. Styles over him over the past few months, Ambrose has seen his popularity diminish.
His WrestleMania 32 match against Brock Lesnar was viewed as a very disappointing night for Ambrose. An interview with Steve Austin on the WWE Network also made Ambrose come off poorly and somewhat change fans perception of him. His title reign being a slight disappointment has made his stock fall in the WWE. James Ellsworth is currently the most entertaining facet about him and that’s not a good thing.
14 Big Cass and Enzo Amore
Enzo Amore and Big Cass's call up from NXT made them fan favorites in the Tag Team Division on Raw. Most crowds chant along with their catchphrases during the pre-match promos similar to The New Age Outlaws of the Attitude Era. Unfortunately, Enzo and Cass have yet to establish themselves as an elite duo in the WWE.
Enzo’s in-ring work leaves a lot to be desired and Cass often comes off poorly during the talking segments when not sticking to the usual catch phrases. Part of the reason for their failing to reach their potential is also the booking. Enzo and Cass spent way too much time feuding with lesser teams like The Shining Stars and The Dudleyz this year. WWE is likely waiting until 2017 to push them in the Tag Title picture against New Day, but 2016 was a disappointment on the main roster.
13 Andrade Almas
Andrade “Cien” Almas was one of the bigger signings for the WWE towards the end of 2015, as they had hopes of him becoming a top NXT star in 2016. Under a mask using the name La Sombra, he was a huge star in Mexico. Triple H and company thought he was too handsome to put a mask on and repackaged him. Fans did not like the bland portrayal of Almas, causing his initial push to fall apart quickly.
New names entering the promotion like Shinsuke Nakamura, Austin Aries and Bobby Roode all passed him in the pecking order. Fans booed him badly at TakeOver: Brooklyn and cheered for the heel (Roode) in their match, so NXT was forced to turn him heel. It appears to fit him better and should make for a better 2017. Sadly, 2016 will be remembered as a disappointment in Almas’ career.
12 Mick Foley
Every longtime diehard wrestling fan loves Mick Foley. The guy put his body on the line falling onto tacks, flying off giant cages and getting hit with barbed wire baseball bats. Foley is a loveable person that gave his all to the wrestling business. His return to the WWE in 2016 unfortunately hasn't been that great.
Stephanie McMahon named Foley as the Raw General Manager, so he can work with her as an authority figure on the show. Foley has had more misses than hits since taking the on-air role. Every week Foley cuts a promo that features yelling to get his point cross, but it comes off comical rather than important. One of his worst moments featured him warning Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair about the dangers of Hell in a Cell, but not the men in the match.
WWE has been desperately searching for the next big luchador since Rey Mysterio started to deal with injuries as an aging veteran. Sin Cara flopped badly and never was able to regain momentum. WWE went with the slow build in making Kalisto relevant on the main roster. Following a year of tag team work with The Lucha Dragons, Kalisto became the United States Champion.
The WrestleMania 32 pre-show U.S. Title match saw Kalisto defeat Ryback in an underrated bout. That was the end of Kalisto’s momentum with the mid-card title. Kalisto eventually lost the United States Championship to Rusev and fell back into obscurity. The cruiserweight is somehow not in the Cruiserweight Division and is struggling to find relevancy on SmackDown Live. A year that started with the hope of him blossoming into a star ended with him rarely making television.
10 Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt has consistently been viewed as a breakout star nearing the World Title picture. Another year has passed and Wyatt has yet to win the WWE World Championship or even have a singles title match on PPV. Wyatt’s year was a series of disappointments following each other. WrestleMania 32 saw The Rock verbally abusing The Wyatt Family and beating them up with the help of John Cena.
It appeared Wyatt turned face the next night, but reverted back to being a heel for a feud with New Day. They ripped off TNA’s Final Deletion project and it made everyone involved look terrible for it. Wyatt is currently involved in a tag team with Randy Orton. They were the sole survivors in the Survivor Series brand warfare match and recently won SmackDown's Tag Team Championships, which was a good step, but the overall year was a bust for Wyatt with him no closer to the World Title.
9 The Vaudevillains
The new tradition of NXT stars getting called up in the week following WrestleMania continued in 2016. A couple of NXT stars arrived to the main roster, but not all of them succeeded. The Vaudevillains especially suffered with the change. Simon Gotch and Aiden English were one of the most popular tag teams in NXT, but that did not translate over to the main roster at all.
Their first months saw them get a PPV title shot against New Day. However, Gotch and English didn’t stand out and looked completely lost in the big match situation, so WWE never trusted them again. The Vaudevillains fell down the card and arguably became the last tag team in the pecking order on SmackDown Live. Vince McMahon is reportedly down on the duo and doesn’t see anything special in them. Gotch and English better hope to be sent back to NXT or they could be out of the company sooner than later.
8 T.J. Perkins
T.J. Perkins was absolutely outstanding for most of the year. The talented star had great performances in Evolve Wrestling and shined in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic. Triple H trusted him enough to make him the winner of the CWC and the Cruiserweight Champion heading to Raw to start the Cruiserweight Division. Perkins absolutely flopped in the role and almost took down the entire division with him.
Fans failed to show interest and that often happens when the biggest face isn’t connecting. WWE took the title off of him within a few months, losing it to The Brian Kendrick. Perkins just wasn’t ready for the role and disappointed in the biggest spot of his career. His lack of personality and presence made TJP’s time as Cruiserweight Champion one of the most disappointing reigns of any title all year.
7 Apollo Crews
Some guys spend a long time in developmental, struggling to make it to the big stage like Tye Dillinger and Tyler Breeze in recent years. Others come up earlier due to someone in power believing they are ready, like Kevin Owens coming up after just five months in NXT. Apollo Crews only spent eight months on NXT television before getting the call-up.
Crews debuted on the Raw following WrestleMania 32 to a huge ovation. That ended quickly with his following matches and lack of feuds failing to get fans invested. Crews has floundered on SmackDown Live with little to no momentum. Following a poor Intercontinental Championship match against The Miz at SummerSlam, Crews has been inconsistently used on television. His talent is exceptional but you'll be lucky to see it on display.
One of the shocking stories of 2016 saw Ryback leave the WWE after growing frustrated with the lack of opportunities for him. The Big Guy released a statement on social media complaining about how the WWE doesn’t pay the lower card talents in comparison to the main eventers. Ryback left on his own terms and allowed his contract to run out. The vocal Ryback made it seem like he would be making huge moves once free from WWE in 2016.
We have only seen Ryback appear at lower tier independent wrestling shows and he has yet to appear in any of the relevant alternatives to the WWE. Aside from having a lackluster podcast and mediocre clothing line, Ryback has yet to introduce anything new to the wrestling fans. Ryback talked a big game and he could not back it up in 2016. Hopefully 2017 gives him more opportunities in the ring, but Ryback may want to start building back that bridge he burned with WWE.
WWE hoped Paige would become the face of women’s wrestling for many years to come when winning the Divas Championship on her first night in 2014. Paige had the talent, personality and passion to be the greatest female wrestler of all-time. However, the influx of new talent coming up to the main roster from NXT exposed her as not being on the level of Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch.
2016 was a horrible year for Paige on all levels. her peak saw her be a part of the winning face team in a ten-women match on the WrestleMania 32 kickoff show. Injuries have made her miss the majority of the year and she is still currently out. Paige’s relationship with Alberto Del Rio put her in hot water with the WWE after both of them were suspended at the same time for violating the Wellness Policy. The relationship between Paige and WWE gets worse with each month and many are speculating she will be released in the near future.
4 Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows
The wrestling world was shocked at the beginning of the year when rumors leaked that Shinsuke Nakamura, A.J. Styles, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows were leaving top spots in New Japan for roster spots in the WWE. Styles is the WWE World Champion on SmackDown and Nakamura is the NXT Champion. Anderson and Gallows have struggled to find the same success as their friends.
WWE hoped they would become a top tag team similar to their role in New Japan, but Anderson and Gallows have been a secondary team failing to make an impact. Their best time in the company featured them aligning with Styles to form The Club. The split in the draft caused Anderson and Gallows to once again flounder without A.J. by their side. It didn’t help that they were involved in some of the worst segments all year, dressing as doctors to insult New Day before losing every title match.
3 Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is a game changer and has been treated as the biggest WWE attraction in years. The past few years have seen him deliver classic moments and matches. However, 2016 was his worst year since returning to the company in 2012. Lesnar kicked off the year in a feud with Bray Wyatt that was so pointless they abandoned it before WrestleMania 32.
His ended up facing Dean Ambrose at WrestleMania in one of the most underwhelming matches of the year. Ambrose claimed the match disappointed because of Brock being lazy and not wanting to do anything special for the big match. Lesnar had another mediocre performance against Randy Orton at SummerSlam. The best Brock moment all year saw him get decimated by Bill Goldberg in 86 seconds at Survivor Series. It was a horrible year for one of the highest paid wrestlers in the world.
2 Damien Sandow
There are few things worse in wrestling than when you root for someone to get a chance and that person flops once they get it. WWE fans rooted for Damien Sandow to receive a push for many years. The charismatic Sandow always shined in smaller spots on the WWE programs when given the chance to succeed. Sandow getting released from the company earlier this year made us hope he’d finally show what he could do without the restrictions.
TNA signed him to a deal as Aron Rex. They did not get back whatever they invested in the once hot prospect. Rex has either regressed in a short time period or we were wrong about him all along. TNA is struggling to gain credibility with the wrestling fan base again and an out of shape Rex having lackluster matches every week is not helping.
1 Roman Reigns
WWE remained insistent on pushing Roman Reigns to the moon at the beginning of 2016. Reigns main evented the record breaking WresteMania 32 event by defeating Triple H to win the WWE World Championship in front of 100,000+ fans booing him. The company continued the mega-push by having him adopt the catchphrase of being “The Guy” so his detractors would know he wasn’t going anywhere.
Reigns made the biggest error of his career when he violated the Wellness Policy and was given a thirty-day suspension for failing the drug test. The company was forced to have him lose the WWE World Championship to Seth Rollins and miss a month of action. Management had to be furious with someone getting arguably the most forced push in company history and failing a drug test as the champion. Reigns has struggled to gain fan support, but it appears 2017 will once again reset his push as the face of the company. Hopefully he doesn’t disappoint again in the top spot.
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